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Hitchens and Haldane Debate Secularism and Faith in the Public Square

Last month, John Haldane and Christopher Hitchens participated in a discussion at Oxford University. The dialogue, organized by the Veritas Forum, considered whether secularism or religion provides a superior public philosophy.  The issue of whether the public square should be free of appeals to faith is fiercely contested today in the Western world. Both speakers give their opinions on this question, as well as examining which worldview can deliver a better foundation for human rights, liberties, and shared ideals. John Haldane is the Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and the Director of their Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. Christopher Hitchens is a essayist, journalist and author several books, including God is Not Great.

The video from the exchange has just gone up on YouTube in ten parts (H/T: Edward Feser) and the audio can be found here. I’ve embedded the Vimeo video below (courtesy of the Veritas Forum).

‘We Don’t Do God’? Secularism and Faith in the Public Square from The Veritas Forum on Vimeo.

Both the Contestant and the Referee: A Review of The End of Secularism

Harold Kildow, of the Evangelical Political Scholars Association, reviews Hunter Baker’s new book The End of Secularism:

“the political liberalism that perhaps marked a climax run in the history of liberty, had as one of its pillars religious toleration. A corollary is that government is not in the business of caring for souls—and thus a salutary separation of church and state is called for. It is but a short rhetorical step from there to the default understanding regnant to this day, to wit: toleration, liberty, and all the good things of our Western political patrimony depend upon a strict neutrality in government when it comes to religion. Thus secularism is the sine qua non of a well-ordered, and peaceful, democratic nation. Of course, Baker’s title announces the end of secularism, not its ascendancy; his brief but thorough treatment (194 pages not including notes and a very valuable bibliography) belongs in the hands of students and their professors, parishioners and their pastors, and everyone concerned that the referee has entered the game as a contestant.

Elite opinion, at least since the French Enlightenment, has tended to secularism and outright atheism. But the baleful effects of elite belief are less pronounced in societies or eras where government does not imagine itself to have authority over all or most of the public’s life. The era of Big Government is, sadly, still with us; and as its power and authority have increased, the number of perches for self styled elites has increased, and like the branches of a well watered tree, offers refuge and sustenance for many an obnoxious bird. What makes secularism especially obnoxious in Baker’s telling is its deceptive posture as morally neutral—and its concomitant assertion that the threat to social comity is solely from religion. Remove religion and its entirely unwarranted moral certainty from the public square, and, voilà!, problem solved, the era of life and light can begin in earnest.

But secularism, to bring another metaphor, has its hand on the scale while selling us the goods.”

Read the whole thing here.

Arriving on shelves late last year, The End of Secularism challenges the notion that religion must be kept a private matter and therefore prevented from informing public life and policy decisions. Baker argues that secularism itself not only fails to be neutral, but does not solve the problem of religious difference.

For more details about the book, you can listen to an excellent interview with Hunter Baker on the White Horse Inn or download the book’s introduction here.

With many voices today claiming that Christianity poses a threat to freedom, this book looks to be a timely and persuasive call to reexamine secularism’s status as the “super rational public philosophy to trump all the rest”.